Wits Theatre’s 969 Festival celebrates its 14th birthday this year with a spectacular line-up of 28 theatre, dance and music productions that will feature on both the Main and fringe stages at the National Arts Festival in 2017.
Running from 14 – 30 July at the Wits Theatre in Braamfontein, the popular 969 Festival has a diverse artistic appeal showcasing work from all over South Africa. The 969 kilometre trek is one that most theatre lovers cannot make and for Gautengers, the 969 festival is the most convenient way to experience a cross-section of South African talent. “The diversity of this year’s festival featuring dance, music, theatre and comedy is exciting with a great balance between both main and fringe entries. We are also delighted to be featuring so many Standard Bank Young Artist winners,” says Gita Pather, Director of Wits Theatre, who has developed a reputation for finding and staging theatre productions which are all at once original and memorable. She added…” The programme has been specifically structured for theatregoers to enjoy several shows in one day or evening with time for a drink at the theatre bar in a warm cozy environment”.
2017 sees a strong showing of Main stage dance that includes work by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Thandazile Radebe with Sabelo , With Nothing But Silence They Turned Their Bodies To Face The Noise (or Noise for short)by the ground breaking Mpumalanga based dance company The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC ) and the inimitable Dada Masilo who reimagines the iconic ballet Giselle setting it piece in rural South Africa by exploring traditional African rituals and ceremonies. With original composition by Philip Miller who stunningly interlaces his composition with African voice, drums, cello, violin and harp.
Two other works include Nijinsky’s War conceived by acclaimed dancer/choreographer, Ignatius van Heerden and directed by Gopala Davis, a collaboration combining theatre and dance to draw parallels between Nijinsky, one of the world’s greatest dancers of all time, and Van Heerden’ s lives as performers and dance creators. Vacuum generates impossible images and fantastic paintings, interplay of bodies appearing and disappearing between black holes and dazzling lights. The piece, which is conceived and choreographed by Philippe Saire, is the third part in a series of performances called Dispositifs (‘stage devices’), in convergence with visual arts.
It’s a veritable feast of genres from comedy to thrillers and dramas, for all theatregoers across age groups, languages and cultures. Award-winning playwright Mike van Graan teams up with award winning actress Gina Shmukler and director Lesedi Job to present his new play Helen of Troyeville, a poetic work reflecting on the complexities of contemporary South Africa from the eyes of a grandmother who finds herself in a life-threatening situation. Naledi Award winners Jade Bowers and Ameera Patel, team up in a new show titled Black that begins with a potentially explosive missive from the SA government to Zara that documents once sealed implicating her father in an act committed against the anti-apartheid movement decades earlier, will soon be released to the public. The letter becomes the start of a journey into Zara’s past.
Yellowman, 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama tells the poignant story of Alma and Eugene, two African Americans trying to navigate their way through life, love, family and identity politics. The play was written by Dael Orlandersmith and is directed by Tshego Khutsoane. There is no shortage of intense theatre this year with The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha directed by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi about the too common phenomenon of a missing child and the return of the sold out show Burn which explores the fraught relationship between Earth and Man as they hold each other ransom. It is directed by the well-known choreographer Bailey Snyman.
As a university, student theatre is central to the 969 festival because it highlights the new generation of creative talent. Thought-provoking Mmu is a character-driven performance which questions the relationship between people and the land, our interlinked identities. It’s a Wits Theatre/WSOA-Theatre & Performance Division production, directed by Sinenhlanhla Zwane and Luke Reid, and written by Quinton Manning. The Market Theatre Laboratory presents two student plays Hani and Pop iCherry. Hani is based on the story of Chris Hani’s life, told through the contemporary song forms of hip-hop, rap and ballad, and directed by Leila Henriques. Pop iCherry does not hold back when dealing with the themes surrounding one of society’s most loaded subjects, virginity. The play is co-directed by Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi and Tumeka Matintela and co-written by Ncumisa Ndimeni and Nosipho Buthelezi.
For those looking for a laugh, there is much to enjoy. Join acclaimed theatre actor, TV actor, vocalist and professional k*k talker Mortimer Williams as he discovers the unchartered territory which fascinates us all, the mind of the South African male, in standup comedy-cum-cabaret The Full Morty. Or share a fun romp on a girl’s night out where the topics under scrutiny are about love, lust and everything between the sheets in the riotous Six Inches, written and directed by Kristy Suttner. Jittery Citizens, directed by Claudine Ullman, brings sharp-as-a-tack, improvisational comedy to the festival. The play’s hilarious and off-the-cuff style is guaranteed to invoke spontaneous laughter from even the most serious Jozi audience. KidCasino directed by darkly humored Toni Morkel is an absurd dark comedy which follows two kids as they run free in Sun Star Casino’s Arcade. While on their wild escapade the audience gets to explore the underbelly of Casino Culture.
At 969 the festival is bringing a choice of family fare and children’s theatre to its stages. As the event falls in the middle of the government school holidays, this year it invites children to come with their parents to enjoy the enrichment of live performance by including a young people’s theatre weekend on 15 and 16 July.
Children between the ages of 4 and 8 will be entranced by Space Rocks, a new play combining science, technology and mythology to create an innovative and playful theatrical experience about early childhood development and emotional growth. It is directed by Craig Morris and written by Tamara Schultz. No matter whether you are 6 or 60, Jitterbugs will have you shaking with laughter as it brings the first ever proudly South African musical-comedy-sketch show written by primary school kids and performed by professionals. Jitterbugs is imaginatively directed by Claudine Ullman. Another engaging play for little kids is Rat Race, which is styled like a pop-up storybook. It’s a comical piece with an eco-theme about a stressed-out city rat and an easy-going farm mouse. The award-winning play is directed by Kyla Davis.
Older primary school children will love Mainane!, a magical coming-of-age journey about a group of kids who overcome their struggles against the backdrop of contemporary South Africa. The play is directed by Warren Nebe Teenagers will be enthralled by Insta-Grammar, a heart-wrenching love story in the whirlwind era of Instagram and Snapchat. Directed by Hamish Neill in collaboration with the Drama for Life Theatre Company, Insta-Grammar is the ultimate drama for teens 15 years and up.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival promises to be a memorable concert : Steven Newman and Ashish Joshi. Both musical veterans and make up an incredible synergetic two-man outfit for the festival. Newman is a master of the guitar, drawing on intricate flamenco melodies, while Joshi compliments his style with the beats of his tabla.
Music lovers can enjoy the easy listening and eclectic tunes from dynamic duo Dikelo & Bongile. Then, multi-talented singer, writer, composer and producer Samthing Soweto is bringing his record-breaking sell-out show from The Soweto Theatre to the 969 Festival. His performance is an absolute must-see.
And, finally, Let There Be Music is a true celebration of the most beautiful and exciting music inspired by genres from around the world. Performed by the award-winning hundred voices of the Hoerskool Randburg Choir and the acclaimed Majazi Ensemble, the show will truly inspire and touch your heart.